The Slatest

Why Are We Releasing Guantanamo Prisoners When We Know Some Will Kill Americans?

A watch tower at the no-longer-active “Camp X-Ray” section of the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

According to a story published by Reuters today, some members of the Obama administration believe that high-ranking Pentagon officials are manipulating bureaucratic rules and regulations to slow the release of prisoners from the military detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay. (The administration has been trying to increase the rate at which prisoners are transferred out of Guantanamo and released in foreign countries; Obama’s vow to close the facility is probably his most famously unfulfilled campaign promise.)

To slow prisoner transfers, Pentagon officials have refused to provide photographs, complete medical records and other basic documentation to foreign governments willing to take detainees, administration officials said. They have made it increasingly difficult for foreign delegations to visit Guantanamo, limited the time foreign officials can interview detainees and barred delegations from spending the night at Guantanamo.

The military’s motive in doing this, Reuters says, is to prevent the possibility that the released inmates (who are ostensibly “low-risk”) will slip out from under the restrictions that are supposed to be imposed by the governments that are taking them in, then “reengage” in terrorism. And according to a report released by Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence in March 2015, such concerns appear to be completely valid!


By the administration’s own account, at least 68 former Guantanamo detainees (including five released by the boss of the guy who wrote the report) are actively engaged in planning or conducting terrorist activities. In other words, the members of the military who believe that some detainees released in foreign countries will go on to kill Americans are almost certainly right.

OK, then … why are we doing this? Well, the Bush administration made the decision—which the Obama administration then endorsed—to indefinitely detain hundreds of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo without trial. That’s a decision that’s been met with a legal and public-opinion backlash. (Bush also probably detained a number of men who were not actually terrorists.) At the same time, many Americans are highly resistant to the idea of moving Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S.; the current speaker of the House once referred to the idea of imprisoning these ostensible enemies on U.S. soil (something we’ve done throughout our entire history as a country, by the way) as “importing terrorists.”

In other words, the pressure not to keep every Guantanamo prisoner imprisoned forever sans due process is opposed by the pressure not to bring them here, and the result has been a splitting-the-baby situation in which Obama releases prisoners to countries that are not always capable of keeping watch on them. Except in this situation, it’s not just a hypothetical baby that dies—it’s our soldiers and, potentially, our civilians too.